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Bonobos and orangutans, but not chimpanzees, flexibly plan for the future in a token-exchange task

Abstract

Non-human animals, including great apes, have been suggested to share some of the skills for planning that humans commonly exhibit. A crucial difference between human and non-human planning may relate to the diversity of domains and needs in which this skill is expressed. Although great apes can save tools for future use, there is little evidence yet that they can also do so in other contexts. To investigate this question further, we presented the apes with a planning token-exchange task that differed from standard tool-use tasks. Additionally, we manipulated the future outcome of the task to investigate planning flexibility. In the Exchange condition, subjects had to collect, save and transport tokens because they would need them 30 min later to exchange them for food with a human, i.e., “bring-back” response. In the Release condition, the collection and transport of tokens were not needed as no exchange took place after 30 min. Out of 13 subjects, eight solved the task at least once in the Exchange condition, with chimpanzees appearing less successful than the other species. Importantly, three individuals showed a clear differential response between conditions by producing more “bring-back” responses in the Exchange than in the Release conditions. Those bonobo and orangutan individuals hence adapted their planning behavior according to changing needs (i.e., they brought tokens back significantly more often when they would need them). Bonobos and orangutans, unlike chimpanzees, planned outside the context of tool-use, thus challenging the idea that planning in these species is purely domain-specific.

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Acknowledgments

The research was supported by a grant from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR-08-BLAN-0042-01). We thank Hanna Petschauer for her valuable assistance throughout the study.

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Correspondence to Marie Bourjade.

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Supplementary Video S1. The orangutan Pini in the Exchange condition (MPG 43788 kb)

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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 275 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (PDF 183 kb)

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Bourjade, M., Call, J., Pelé, M. et al. Bonobos and orangutans, but not chimpanzees, flexibly plan for the future in a token-exchange task. Anim Cogn 17, 1329–1340 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-014-0768-6

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Keywords

  • Future planning
  • Anticipation
  • Foresight
  • Non-human primate
  • Token exchange